Aaron Flenady, who became homeless suddenly in 2007, opens up his South Lismore 'home' to those worse off than him.
Aaron Flenady, who became homeless suddenly in 2007, opens up his South Lismore 'home' to those worse off than him. The Northern Star

'Better facility for homeless' on the cards

OVERNIGHT temperatures hit zero in Lismore last week and the city's homeless could feel the biting cold deep in their bones.

Many had hoped this winter would be different, that a homeless shelter would be built in time to ward off the worst of the chill.

However, the riverbanks and makeshift camp sites they call home will have to do for the foreseeable future.

Last week, Lismore City Council announced a homeless shelter would not be completed in the town this year.

While council and Federal funding is still on the table, difficulties in finding a suitable location have delayed the project, which The Northern Star started campaigning for more than a year ago.

Homeless man Aaron Flenady, 25, said the shelter was vital for people who found themselves without a place to live.

Mr Flenady found himself in this situation 18 months ago and it took him by surprise.

"It can happen - just like that, maybe because of an argument with friends or financial problems," he said.

Mr Flenady has a makeshift camp site near the soup kitchen in South Lismore. He is a gentle and thoughtful man who shares his tent and meagre welfare income with those who are worse off than him.

The former Richmond River High School student said he spent a lot of time 'just trying to keep it together' so he can work towards fulfilling his dream of starting up a business and getting a place to live with a room for his six-year-old daughter.

"It is hard to get a place to rent. The agents have such full-on requirements. If there was cheaper accommodation, there would be fewer people camping out," he said.

Lismore mayor Merv King said a preferred site for a shelter at South Lismore near the soup kitchen was no longer viable as it did not meet Federal funding guidelines because it was situated on the floodplain.

"Unfortunately, in order to satisfy the combined requirements of our joint partners, it will not be possible to complete the project this year," Cr King said.

"We are currently investigating site issues and formulating a workable operational model for a 24/7 facility.

"The stakeholder agencies are disappointed with the delay,
but they acknowledge that more research and negotiation are necessary if the project is to move forward."

He said a development application for the shelter could
not progress until investigations into the scope and
location of the facility were complete.

However, he said the delay would result in a 'better, more comprehensive facility for local homeless people'.

Margaret Lord, vice-president of the Lismore Soup Kitchen, said it was disappointing for those involved, especially for the homeless.

However, she agreed it was 'probably for the best in the long run'.

"For some it is very disappointing, but in saying that, people realise taking the time to get it right is going to be better in the end," Ms Lord said.

Representatives from the council, St Vincent de Paul Society, South Lismore Progress Association and Lismore Soup Kitchen have been meeting regularly to firm up an operating model and identify the most suitable site for a shelter.

Cr King said an important result of the overall investigation was a clear understanding of the project partners' expectations regarding the standards essential for such a facility.

It became clear the original concept of a simple overnight shelter needed to be expanded, he said.

This week is National Homeless Person's Week. For more information visit www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au

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